Museum on the Move

By Dave Schwab

Bird Rock History Museum, formerly housed at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, is looking for a new home.

“It was great having the exhibit here but it was just time for a change,” said Chuck Patton, owner of the coffee shop about the museum’s two-year debut at his establishment.

He said hosting the museum was “really fun,” and it helped locals reconnect with the history of Bird Rock.

“People would come in who used to live here in the 1950s or ‘60s, and look at the boards and comment on the places where they grew up or played,” he said. Patton plans to replace the Bird Rock memorabilia with revolving works by area artists.

The makeshift Bird Rock History Museum began as a storyboards project by resident Philomene Offen, who volunteered to chronicle the town’s story for the 2009 Taste of Bird Rock event. Offen said she never imagined that one-time effort would culminate in hundreds of hours of ongoing research and a full-blown exhibit.

But Offen is now at a crossroads. Should she search for new exhibit space for her storyboards? Or should she turn them into a scrapbook and donate it somewhere?

Regardless of where the Museum may or may not be in the future, Offen intends to continue compiling historical photos and personal accounts of life in the La Jolla neighborhood.

One of her recent “finds” was a whimsical account of growing up in Bird Rock after World War II that she received from Harry Marriner, who now lives on a dairy farm near Bogota, Columbia.

As a small boy in Bird Rock in the 1940s, Marriner’s tale is of the same place in a different time: One simpler, more innocent.

“The ocean became my passion shortly after arriving at my new home at 528 Colima St. with my parents in late 1945 … Gunnery Point was still in operation at the foot of Colima Street and the anti-aircraft guns and the 5-foot guns from ships offshore scared me …” Marriner recounts in his manuscript titled, “A Few Distant Memories of Growing Up in La Jolla.”

“I was about 12 when I began skin diving … through practice, my diving skills improved until I could get two abalones on one dive, spear edible Cabezone and Calico Bass, grab lobsters, and have enough to feed my parents and my sister.”

Marriner recalls how the early days of surfing in La Jolla began for him with a 10-foot, 6-inch Hot Curl design surfboard. He also remembers creating skateboards by “nailing roller-skate wheels to a 2 by 4 board.”

He and friends graduated to Soap Box Derby cars, then plywood go-carts powered by lawn mower engines without mufflers that he said, “irritated the heck out of neighbors who would call the police.”

“Life was safer in those days when we always left the front door open during the summer and didn’t worry about thieves … the ice man, the mailman, the milkman, the egg man and the paperboy were important people for my family since they always passed along the latest neighborhood gossip and kept my mother informed of what was going on in La Jolla and the rest of the world.”

Graduated from San Diego State College in 1965 and married shortly afterwards, Marriner joined the Coast Guard for a tour and never lived in La Jolla again — though he never fails to look back.

“My heart’s still there and I frequently think about summer nights with my window open listening to the sound of beach rocks rolling, being pushed to and fro by summer storm waves,” he said.

Noting Marriner’s manuscript “provides a richly-detailed trip back in time to a fairly idyllic Bird Rock of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s,” historian Offen noted many of the photographs he provided to her for reuse in the Bird Rock History Museum “have never been published before.” She said his rare account and pictures are exactly the type of materials she’s always seeking.

“I had not been able to track down any real information about Bird Rock businesses in the 1950s and 1960s, but Harry has amazing recall of them,” she said. “I think this project is truly a gift to Bird Rock and I'm very grateful to him that he took the time to do it.”

She added that the people who remember Bird Rock in the 1940s are aging and passing on and “it would be a shame if all of this information were lost.”

“I had always hoped that if my Bird Rock History Museum did nothing else, it could be a central point for the ongoing collection of information and photos about our unique neighborhood,” Offen said adding she’s generally collecting photos one at a time these days and “never anticipated getting the gold mine that is Harry's memoir.”

To read Harry Marriner’s article, "Memories of Bird Rock 1945-1965,” click

here

.

Got thoughts on where to house the Bird Rock History Museum? Contact philoff@san.rr.com

Milestones in Bird Rock History

1906:

Developer Michael Francis Hall deeds “Bird Rock-by-the-Sea.” Sales are poor.

December, 1917:

First war time sinking of a U.S. submarine occurs off Bird Rock when two F-series submarines collide in the fog on a training mission, sinking one of them within 10 seconds and killing all 19 aboard. The submarine is still there.

1921:

The whitewashed rocks on the hillside spelling “Bird Rock” are first seen in an aerial photo. Rearranging the rocks will be a favorite teenage prank for decades to come.

1920s:

The area is still largely populated by Japanese truck farmers. Lots on the east side of La Jolla Boulevard go for $550 (corner lot) and $450 (inside lot). Developer tries to sell lots based on the lively presence of some 200 seals in local waters.

July 4, 1924:

Trolley service begins from downtown San Diego to downtown La Jolla, with a stop in Bird Rock. Service ends in 1940.

May, 1927:

Charles Lindbergh eats his last meal at the favorite seafood restaurant, Bird Rock Inn, before leaving San Diego for New York and the start of his historic flight on May 20, 1927.

Late 1940s:

Real estate sales in Bird Rock finally take off after a lackluster 40 years. Bird Rock’s trademark little box houses spring up by the dozens.

September 1952:

Responding to the population boom, Bird Rock Elementary School opens.

Early 1960s:

The Bird Rock rock sign disappears from view in the overgrowth, not to be seen again.

Spring, 1981:

The School Board calls for the closure of Bird Rock Elementary as an under-enrolled school. Only six classrooms are in use for seven grade levels. Parents fight this and within a few years, the next generation of children has caused the school to be over-enrolled again.

1990s:

Excellent test scores at Bird Rock Elementary and the relative affordability of homes (along with strong support for the school from local merchants) make Bird Rock one of the most desirable family neighborhoods in San Diego County. This continues to today.

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